Storytelling in Business
“The reason I think storytelling is the most underrated skill in business, is because it doesn’t get talked about a whole lot, and I don’t think people realize it’s happening when it’s happening, and most of all, I don’t think that many people are really good at it…”
-Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO, Wine Library TV and Vaynermedia
Some of the most powerful and longstanding ideas in our culture started their life as stories. Storytelling and the oral tradition have been around almost as long as humans have used spoken language. Stories are such a natural part of everyday communication that we often don’t notice their prevalence and power. Almost everyone, regardless of background or culture, has grown up with stories being the backbone of learning new ideas. It should come as no surprise that many of the most successful marketers in the business world have harnessed the power of story.
Storytelling in business is an effective force for allowing ideas to spread in a meaningful, authentic way.
How to Use Storytelling in your Business
Stories Have a Structure
While we encounter stories all the time, we often don’t think critically about what makes a story different from other types of messages. Here are the structural elements to consider:
- 1. Plot – A definite beginning, middle and end, and a progression through each stage. Instead of a static description of things, stories are moving, they take the reader on a journey. Where does a user of your product begin, physically and emotionally? Where do they end up?
- 2. Character – How are you engaging with your audience as the protagonist, and who (or what) are you up against? Can viewers of your story easily visualize themself as the hero of your story?
- 3. Drama – The struggle in a business story is in desire versus danger. How do you and your company desire to change the world? What are the dangers that threaten this desire?
- 4. An Idea – Your product or service is the idea, the secret weapon that’s going to allow you to win in the end. How will your product accomplish this?
Tell the Truth
Authenticity is an extremely important aspect of any marketing message. Savvy, connected consumers are very sensitive to being misled, now more so than ever before. Even if you are presenting a fictional or hypothetical scenario, you must resist the urge to overtly persuade with your story. A story that presents your product or service in a realistic way, and has a ring of truth to it will be far more compelling than any pure fiction. Audiences can easily tell when a story is based on truth, and gravitate towards truthfulness with their tastes. When I first started Feverish I was embarrassed to tell people that I came up with the idea for the company falling down chasing after an ice cream truck in heels. But now when I tell the story people have a instant connection to our story and it humanize Feverish.
Trim the Detail
Using the example of both Flipboard and Dropbox, keep your story short. Explainer videos in particular rarely need to be longer than 2 minutes in length, and are often more impactful when they are shorter. Stories in general suffer when they become too long; nobody likes having to listen to a story that’s overstayed its welcome. Look at every detail of your stories and make a frank assessment of whether that detail absolutely needs to be included. Work with a desire to tell your full story in the shortest way possible.
Make it Personal
Like Gary Vaynerchuk, make sure you engage with your audience and include them as part of the narrative. Stories are most impactful when we are able to involve ourselves as part of the drama. Remind your audience that you are taking a journey together, and use examples, like product demonstrations in explainer videos that allow the audience to easily visualize themselves using and benefitting from your product.
Give your Audience an Idea, Invite them to Dream
Steve Jobs’ presentations were often impactful because they left the viewers with an idea, a vision of the future that was made better by Apple’s groundbreaking products. This instilled a desire in the audience to help create this future by buying the product. End your stories with an idea, or vision, and make it general, don’t be too specific. Allow the audience to fill in some of the blanks by inserting their own desires into this vision, thus creating engagement. End your stories by showing the world of possibilities that your product or brand creates. This is the “happily ever after” idea. By creating this vision, you invite your audience to turn the story into a reality by engaging with your brand.